Blood, sweat and blue paint

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Larry Pecan
  • 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron
The Airmen of the 964th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron may not have been excited about the early wake-up call, but they were all elated to get to work. On the morning of June 5, sixty-seven Airmen took a journey to a nearby school in Westpunt, Curacao. 

A charitable high school with limited resources, the school was eager to enlist the help of the E-3 Airmen in the hope of creating a more positive learning environment for its 209 students.

Through this and other community relations projects, such as the resupply of a local orphanage and a reef cleanup initiative, the 552nd Air Control Wing's deployed Airmen are learning the value of community relations.

As Lt. Col. Solomon Boxx, commander, 964 EAACS, explains, "Our primary focus here in Curacao is to fly planes, fix planes, and execute the counter drug mission, but whether we want to or not, we are also very visible American ambassadors, and the positive image we project pays huge dividends with the local people and government."

"Even though we do our best to blend in, locals readily identify us as 'Norte Americanos,' so we need to do our best to show our presence in their country is positive, not negative," said Colonel Boxx. "We do that by explaining our effective partnership with them in stemming the flow of illegal drugs, and by the volunteer work of our Airmen, such as the sponsorship of this school."

Aircrew, maintainers and staff worked side by side as they repainted the school's blue aluminum roof, tamed three feet of unkempt grass and shrubbery, and helped the administration smooth out some of the rough edges of a school plagued by years of neglect. They worked tirelessly through the afternoon sun; blue paint and sunburns shone from their faces as proof of their effort, but the Airmen pushed forward until the job was done.

"I ruined a pair of shoes, shorts and a T-shirt," Staff Sgt. Ben Spencer, 964 EAACS, lamented, "but I think the school looks a hundred percent better."

When asked about the experience, one maintainer explained, "It was a great opportunity to get to work together with those [with whom] we don't usually get to . . . It really gives you a greater respect for them!"

Although the labor was the purpose of the visit, the most lasting impression on the St. Juliana students and the 964 EAACS Airmen will likely come from what happened after the work was over.

As the school bell rang, the students ran out to meet the American, Canadian and Colombian volunteers. The language barrier, however, nearly brought their fledgling relationship to a halt. But for the appearance of a soccer ball, the two groups might have stared at each other in silence for the entire afternoon.

1st Lt. Matthew St. Pierre, 964 EAACS, who fashioned a makeshift field on the school basketball court, said that one of the children "was pretty good, though he was a little too physical for my tastes."

Other members of the 964 EAACS tried to converse with the pupils, trading words in English with the local language, Papiamentu, as they tried to describe jet flight to those who had seen airplanes only in the sky above them.

With the sun near setting, the Airmen boarded the bus for a much deserved rest. "Ki ora lo ta bini bek?" asked the children. "Will you be back next month?" Staff Sgt. Daniel Reis responded, "We promise!"